I’ve never hated traffic quite as much as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never pleased to see a standstill, but I’m not infuriated either. Though I’d like to say that I keep my cool because I’m some sort of Zen mastermind, the real reason is probably that I never leave the driveway without having preselected a good podcast or playlist to keep my mind occupied. I also rarely have to worry about being late. I’m one of those people who likes to be early to things, so, against my sister’s best wishes, we would always leave for school by 7 o’clock (Classes didn’t start until 8:35). This has the positive side effect of reducing the impact that traffic has on my life. On Cape Cod, that’s really saying something. 

Please allow me to share one of my favorite sentences on Wikipedia. This one comes from the page for Provincetown, the little village that sits at the very end of the Cape, the hand of the arm. “A small coastal resort town with a year-round population of 3,664 as of the 2020 United States Census, Provincetown has a summer population as high as 60,000.” 

Sixty thousand people. Just think about that. A town that usually hosts under four thousand residents is multiplied tenfold or more from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. While this has many effects on things like the local economy and municipal planning, perhaps the most noticeable is the effect on the traffic. There’s an extra fifty six thousand people headed for Provincetown down Route 6. They’ll have to pass through nearly every town on Cape to get there. From Dennis to Truro most of the highway is one lane with two bottlenecks and a rotary which most of the out-of-staters don’t even know how to use. And that’s not even considering the fourteen other towns on Cape, each of which has its own tourists and its own infrastructure difficulties. Needless to say, it can get pretty bad.

Typical Route 6 traffic. This photo was taken in October. Imagine the traffic in July.

There are different ways of dealing with the traffic. You could be like me, and accept the traffic as inevitable while making a number of preparations before each trip to deal with it. You could minimize travel time overall and take short trips on a bicycle instead of a car like my grandfather. If you’re very wealthy, you could even have signs put up in your neighborhood ordering people to turn off of your road before they pass your house like the Kennedys have done with their famous Hyannis Port compound. Some would say that’s a little unfair. Others would say that they’ve sacrificed a lot and have earned a few road signs to keep their privacy. Personally, I just wouldn’t drive past their compound to begin with. Kennedys and cars are a bad combo, just ask Mary Jo Kopechne.

In the end, no matter what avoidance tactics or breathing exercises you try, on Cape Cod, you’re gonna get pissed off by the traffic eventually. Odds are, it’ll come when someone cuts in front of you at the bottleneck, or goes way too slow in the passing lane, or absolutely refuses to seize the gap no matter how easy you make it for them. And odds are, that person who you think shouldn’t be trusted with their license in the first place, will have a license plate hanging from the back of their vehicle that does not display the word “Massachusetts” anywhere. 

The locals hate the tourists. That’s just a basic and unavoidable fact of life. If you doubt me, just look at the many bumper stickers saying phrases like “I’m not on your vacation!” or “If it’s called tourist season, why can’t we shoot ’em?”. But nowhere is this hatred more intense than in traffic. If you’re a local and you get cut off, you’ll probably be upset about it. You’ll get angry for a minute or two but eventually you’ll shake it off. Forget it ever happened. But if the person that cut you off had a Florida plate then that’s your whole week. “How dare they come invade our land, hog our roads, and have the audacity to cut me off?” you’ll ask yourself. And dear lord, if the offender had a Connecticut plate? Only one of you is going to leave that interaction alive.

A common bumper sticker on Cape Cod

Arrogantly, I like to think myself above this petty factionalism. My lack of hatred for traffic lured me into a false sense of empathic superiority. However, I will admit that there is a phenomenon which causes me to stoop to the level of my fellow Cape Codder and curse the fact that we leave the bridges open past June. That is, of course, when the person I’m sitting behind in bumper to bumper traffic has a variation on a Cape Cod word in their out-of-state custom license plate. A California plate that reads “WELFLT”. A New York plate that says “P-TOWNY”. A Texas plate which has the nerve to display the awful lexical disgrace that wishes it had the honor of being called a pun that is “S-CAPE”. These are the things that make my blood boil. Any reasons I could come up with for why I hate both these plates and the tourists behind them are irrelevant because this hatred is not reasonable whatsoever. It cannot be understood by any application of logic. 

The broader question, however, of why locals hate tourists, can be logically analyzed. After all, tourists and the yearly economic boom they bring are what keep the Cape alive. Is it just anger about the traffic? That is a question that anyone who has ever lived in a suburb can answer with a swift “no.”

The answer is, at least in part, local elitism. That’s the term I use for it, at least. I’m sure social scientists have a better one. What I’m referring to is the shared experience of suburbanites everywhere. The sense of superiority that one gets from the neighborhood in which they reside that prompts them to say “Somerville? Oh, so you’re not really from Boston.”

Even ignoring the economically elitist undertones that are obviously present, invalidating someone’s originREWORD because of a distance between the place where they were born and the place where they now happen to be is not very cool. Nevertheless, it is all too common in the parts of the world that like to feel that they’re important. Cape Cod enjoys local elitism so much that they came up with a cute little word for those who emigrate there; “Wash-ashores”. Speaking as a wash-ashore myself, (I was born in Newton, Massachusetts and lived in Worcester until I was six) I can tell you that this isn’t a fun term to have prescribed to you. I’m not going to lie and say that my identity as a straight white male wash-ashore subjected me to any real bullying or discrimination, it wasn’t that significant. But it wasn’t really insignificant either. For example, I was denied the opportunity to apply for scholarships at my high school due my not having been born in Cape Cod Hospital, despite the fact that I have spent nearly all of my conscious life only a stone’s throw away from that particular building. The issue isn’t that important, but it’s not unimportant.

Now, before you say it, I know that tourism is different. Local elitism is used by those with privilege and against those without, while tourists certainly tend to be the more privileged group in the tourist v. local skirmish. Locals also do have legitimate grievances against tourists. They clog our roads, pollute our environment, and what on earth are we gonna do with all this money that they give us?! Jokes aside, those who hate tourists don’t do so without reason. To claim so would be disingenuous. 

Despite this, if I really look deep in my soul, I truly think that local elitism is the primary force behind the hatred of tourists on Cape Cod. Not the only reason, but the biggest one. I understand that tourists cause a lot of problems, but those problems have solutions, very few of which involve requiring residency on Cape to cross the bridges. I’ve been on a few vacations in my life and most people that I’ve heard complaining about tourists have too. Those who haven’t ever had the chance to go on vacation absolutely deserve to, because despite any problems they might cause, they enrich the human spirit, and allow for brief moments of happiness in a world where every day it seems like happiness is getting harder to find. With this in mind, can you really justify feeling a sense of superiority over the visitors clogging our roads? 

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I just think it’s a good question to think about when you’re stuck in traffic.

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